The government plans to scale back its operation at the end of March to resolve the pension records problem, which has seriously eroded people’s trust in the nation’s public pension system since it was exposed in 2007. With more than 20 million pension records still unidentified, it is inexcusable that the government will leave the task unfinished.

It was during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s previous stint in office that the sloppy management of pension records by the then Social Insurance Agency came to light. Particularly problematic was the revelation of as many as 50.95 million records of premium payments that were not identified. The pension records debacle was one of the issues that fueled voter distrust in the Liberal Democratic Party-led administrations and eventually led to the 2009 change of government.

In 2007, Abe himself pledged that the government would strive to get to the bottom of the problem until the last pension record was identified. More than six years on and with the LDP back in power, government investigation has resolved only 28.95 million cases, leaving it still unclear to whom the remaining 21.12 million premium payments records belong.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry plans to wrap up the work of cross-checking original paper records against data stored in computer systems at the end of March. The ministry will then scale back the investigation on substantially reduced budget and basically look into individual cases only if people inquire about them.

The investigation since 2007 has so far cost ¥401.3 billion, and premium records have been recovered for about 2.69 million people who are due to receive a total of ¥1.9 trillion in pension benefits. Proponents for scaling back the investigation say a large-scale probe is expected to produce diminishing returns because the probe is becoming more difficult with the passage of time and that the benefits that may be recovered through further investigation would not match the cost of the process.

Still, the government needs to continue proactive efforts to recover pension records for as many people as possible. Even a small amount of benefits can be a precious help in the livelihoods of elderly or disabled people living on pensions.

Since the pension records debacle is the result of sloppy data management at the former government agency, it is irresponsible for the government to wrap up the investigation for reasons of cost-efficiency. Abe should honor the pledge he made in 2007.

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